Venezuelan Migrants in Ecuador and Underground Remittances

Talk by Natalia Espinosa Tokuhama

In 2018 and in 2019, the Journeys Project at the Leir Institute mapped the financial journeys of several migrant communities crossing South and Central America. The migrants’ ultimate goal was to arrive to the United States; however, these journeys could take several months or even years. Our research sought to understand their finances leading up to and during their journey. The financial experiences of migrants in Ecuador came up as an early theme in our interviews. In general, there seemed to be a positive association with the financial and savings opportunities migrants had in Ecuador. As such, in early 2020, the Journeys Project sought to study the financial situation of migrants who were in Quito, Ecuador – including migrants in transit and those in more stable situations. In January 2020, three researchers – including Natalia Espinosa Tokuhama – traveled to Quito to gather information. They mapped the local migrant aid networks and learned about the financial status, health and integration of many of these populations. 

Ecuador has a long history of migrant and refugee reception, including a 2008 constitution that welcomes migrants and refugees universally. This historical trend has grown in the last five years with large numbers of Venezuelans choosing to remain and reside in Ecuador after experiencing economic hardship at home. As of September 2020, there are an estimated 400,000 Venezuelan economic refugees living in Ecuador. “Nia” is one such migrant: a young Venezuelan who participated in the underground financial remittance system made possible by Ecuador’s dollarized economy.

The talk above briefly touches on the socio-economic and political history of the region, discusses the mechanics of the remittances scheme, and will give an overview of migrant financial health in Quito.

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